At first, the prospect of applying for United States Citizenship can be daunting, and justifiably so – the fees, the paperwork, and the waiting alone are enough to put many off. That’s very understandable.
But all the same, there are many benefits to U.S. Citizenship that a Lawful Permanent Resident cannot enjoy.
At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide whether or not it’s worth the effort to become a citizen.
But before you come to such an important and potentially life-changing determination, it’s crucial that you be aware of what you stand to gain when you finally take the oath of citizenship.
Only U.S. Citizens can vote in Federal elections, and many state and local elections bar non-Citizens as well. Voting is obviously the most direct way to have your say in the national political conversation, so if you want to speak with your ballot, you’re going to have to become a Citizen.
Beyond the national level, the ability to vote in state and local elections (where non-Citizens are otherwise prohibited) will allow you to have your say on issues that more directly impact your day-to-day life, from changes in state leadership all the way down to local ordinances. Democracy is the cornerstone of our Federal Republic – why not join in?
While Green Card holders can work almost anywhere, there are still some jobs that only US Citizens can hold – primarily public offices. If you have the drive and ambition to serve your community by being an elected official, citizenship is the way to go.
Many immigrants have risen to high elected offices in this country, from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s a lofty, but noble goal to follow in their footsteps.
Granted, unless you were born on US soil, the Presidency is off-limits.
But that still leaves a lot of jobs where you can do some real good, all while inspiring immigrants such as yourself to aim a little higher. Think you’re up for it? Start filling out that N-400.
Living in the United States
Lawful Permanent Residents are permitted to stay in the United States for as long as they like, but there are a few caveats that go with the term “permanent.” As long as you hold a Green Card, you are obligated to inform USCIS whenever you have a change of address. Failing to do so may be grounds for deportation. There are several other ways your LPR status can be revoked, such as if you are convicted of certain crimes or are caught committing fraud.
As a Citizen, this is just one less thing you have to worry about. Loss of Citizenship (called denaturalization) is a rare thing, and only happens in extreme cases. (For more information, see this article).
However, in the overwhelming majority of cases those who gain Citizenship keep it for life, and get to enjoy residence anywhere in the United States without any of the minor headaches that come with permanent residency.
No more having reporting address changes, no more looming threat of deportation over a criminal conviction. You can up and move from New York to California without the authorities batting an eyelash – but we’d still advise against committing any crimes.
Travelling and Residing Abroad
As long as you’re a Green Card holder, you have to maintain continuous residence in the United States. That means that you’re always going to be hampered in where you can go and for how long. If you spend too much time outside of the country, USCIS may consider you to have abandoned you Lawful Permanent Residence and revoke your Green Card. Then you’ll have to start the entire immigration process from square one.
Citizenship wipes away all travel and residence restrictions. Have an itch to backpack through Europe for six months? Go right ahead. Feel like moving back to your country of birth to be with your relatives for a few years? No one’s stopping you. As long you hold a valid US passport, your adopted country’s doors will be wide open to you when you decide to come back. This is your home now, after all – and you can always come home.
For Your Family:
Petitioning Relatives to Join You in the United States
When you file a petition with USCIS on behalf of a family member, they are sorted into a certain preference category based on your status (LPR v. Citizen) and their relation to you. Each category has a yearly quota of immigrants placed on it. For example, minor children and spouses of Lawful Permanent Residents are sorted into category 2A, which is capped at 87,900 visas per year. If that category fills up (as it often does), your relative will have to wait – and that may take years.
Family of US Citizens are given priority when a petition is filed on their behalf. Spouses, parents, and minor children of US Citizens are sorted in the Immediate Relative (“IR”) category. This category does not have a quota – an unlimited number may be granted every year. This means a quicker turnaround from filing to processing, and less time that you have to spend without the ones you love. If you have family living abroad, this is arguably the strongest incentive to pursue citizenship.
(NOTE: if you have unmarried children under the age of 21 living abroad that you would like to join you, you should familiarize yourself with how your citizenship will ease their immigration under the Child Status Protection Act).
Public Benefits and Assistance
This obviously affects you individually, but the public assistance available only to US Citizens (such as Medicaid, foot stamps, housing benefits, financial aid for college, etc.) can be a massive boon to both you and your family. Lawful Permanent Residents are not eligible for most of these programs.
Consider the money you potentially save while raising a family or caring for an older relative. Public assistance may shave hundreds if not thousands of dollars off of your living expenses, allowing you to save more for your future and to provide for those you love.
Only you can decide if applying for citizenship is worth the hassle, but as you can see, citizenship carries with it some massive perks.
Should you decide to dive into the great undertaking that ends with a US Passport, consider consulting with an experienced immigration attorney to help you sort it all out.